Parenting

The Milk of Female Kindness

It’s been a great week.  I’m proud to announce the release of the Milk of Female Kindness: An Anthology of Honest Motherhood.  Edited by Kasia James, it includes a dynamic, insightful mix of essays, art, poetry and stories, all honoring motherhood in its layered complexity by over 20 writers and artists. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this project.  So if you are looking for that perfect holiday gift for a mother or grandmother or mother-to-be, I highly recommend this.

MFK Cover

The Milk of Female Kindness

 An Anthology of Honest Motherhood

Authored by Kasia James, Sarah Cass, Judith Dickerman-Nelson, Tara Chevrestt, Cheri Roman, Gemma Wright, Khaalidah Muhammad Ali, Kitty Brody, Angelique Jamail, Laura Evans, Sandra Danby, Maureen Bowden, Sabrina Garie, Betty Ming Liu, Jessica Kennedy, Christa Forster, Marie Marshall, Judith Field, Jennifer James, Alison Bartlett, Heather Sadiechild Harris, Judith Francis Field, Carla Pasoce, Valerie Walawender, Ruth Alderman, Rhyannon Yates

Illustrated by Judith Logan Farias

‘Mother’ is a word heavy with associations.

Becoming a mother is surely one of the biggest changes and challenges in a woman’s life. It is at once an absolutely unique experience, and yet one which is so common that it is often overlooked. Motherhood is intense, relentless and absorbing, in all senses of the word.

Popular culture seems to have a split personality when it comes to motherhood – at once holding it up as a sacred ideal, and yet being a little dismissive of women as mothers.

A diverse international group of women have been brave enough to share their stories, poetry and artwork to encourage you to think and feel about this most influential of relationships in a new and enlightened way.

* Includes Discussion Questions for Reading Groups *

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Whose Pride Goeth With A Child’s Fall?

I’m proud of my child. No surprises there.  For several years she did competitive gymnastics. I did gymnastics too, was on the high school team but never really prospered with it.  H. made it to the national championships, has a drawer full of medals and ribbons by the age I had mastered a cartwheel.  Of course, this is something I never, no never bragged about. 🙂  And I have no photos and videos. Hmm, now how did get that there?

H flying

When she decided to quit, I was devastated. I made her stick it out for another month just to be sure.  She was. I wasn’t.

I still miss her gymnastics, while she never really looked back. That’s when I had to admit, I was living out my unrealized childhood dreams through her. While I was right to not allow her to quit on a whim, it was me, not her, that went through withdrawal. It was me, not her, that wanted to go the distance.  Its like I lost a boost to my own ego when I all did was sit in those damn uncomfortable bleachers (ugh), pay for the lessons (ouch), and cheer my heart out (pass me a throat lozenge please).

So be careful out there. Even if you don’t think you’re living through your kids, there may be the odd place where you are–where it integrates into your life in subtle and hidden ways.   Its hard not too, they are pieces of us, inherit some our our strengths as well as our weaknesses.

So, my next book is coming out next week.   As promised, its about single mom finding romance. Cause moms are sexy too.

Sabrina Garie is on a journey to create the most kick-ass heroine in romance fiction. Her new book Next Move releases on July 5 from Ellora’s Cave.

Parenting necessity: A teflon ego

“You’re really bad at that, Mom.”

How often do I hear that.  Here are a few others.

You look better in glasses, they cover your eye bags.”

“Ah mom, about that dress.”

“Mom, you can never, ever, wear a bikini.”

Or maybe she just sits down next to me and starts to count the grey hairs on the back of my head. The ones I can’t see so I don’t have to acknowledge that they exist.

I think you get the point.  Kids pull no punches. They say it like they see it and it can be painful.

There is no fooling yourself with kids around–the pounds you gain are real, grey hairs not a disturbance of the light. I’m not sure its a bad thing, but they need to learn to temper their language. That’s the parents’ job. But as we know, just telling them doesn’t always get you where you need to be. Its a long road before linguistic nuance and subtlety becomes habit.

Fortunately (or not) they get the whole white lie thing early. But H. won’t white lie to me (lie yes, but that’s for another lesson and thank goodness she’s a lousy liar), only pure, unvarnished truth. Lucky me. As an older parent, my ego’s pretty solid but even so, I can’t say I’ve not had a  few winces and hidden glimpses in the mirror.

How do your kids test your ego?

My Kid Wears Hats: Insights from the Parenting Trenches

Plastic smile on my face, I scan the overcrowded, sweltering gymnasium while waiting for the spring instrumental music concert to start.  My daughter H. plays beginner trumpet and I have the ear plugs to prove it. My gaze hones in on a tween twHeidi dance recitalo rows in front of me with a tan fedora adorned with a big brown flower on its rim. She’s the only one in the whole room wearing a hat.  Usually, that’s H.

 

My kid wears hats. She’s about fashion, especially accessories. Belts, jewelry, half gloves, hats, suspenders, you name it, she’s got it and she wears it. Its often the first point of discussion in my parent-teacher meetings. H and her fashion.

 

Once, she forgot to dress up for photo day so she ripped her shirt to make it more interesting. I even had a pierced, overpainted, and tattooed young lady praise me in Starbucks for letting me daughter express herself.  I smiled and nodded. I’ll take kudos on my parenting from wherever they come from. We never get enough.

 

Okay, I’ve got a chic kid, but what this got to do with parenting beyond letting her self-expression.  Everything. Because its in the simple things, that I’ve found my most profound parenting insights.

 

Insight one: Athena emerges fully-formed

 

My kid wears hats, I don’t. Never really did. I dressed pretty well in high school mostly because my mother dressed me. Left to my own devises, I would live my life in jeans, V-necked t-shirts and boots and be totally content. H. would not. My first lesson one–kids are born pretty much with their personalities in tact. Like Athena jumping out Zeus’s head fully formed. It’s real. My little Athena’s personality shone from birth–attention hungry, stomach issues, independent as all heck, total foodie, nap resistant, talkaholic, in total control of her world, dressed herself as soon as she possible could.

 

Birth of Athena

Insight 2: Be the change you want to see in your kid

 

But parents mold their children, teach, encourage, you say. Kinda, sorta, but not really in the way I expected. Teaching my kid in the sparkling beret or spangled fedora or bejeweled baseball cap (a clear preference for glitter and shine)turned out to be a long-term, ever-changing investment. I had this crazy impression, a total dream really, that I would tell her what to do and of course, bowing to my great wisdom and not insignificant life experience, she’d just do it. Because kids do what parents say. Right?  And so I told her, and then I told her again, and again. When I looked in the mirror, a nagging shrew looked back at me. Ms. H. never blossomed under the words of my great wisdom, especially when said (maybe shouted) repeatedly.

 

Since I couldn’t tell her what to do, I took a lesson from writing and started to show her.  Gandhi had it spot on. “Be the change you want to be.” It works for civil right and it worked for me for parenting.

 

I model the behavior I want to see, talk more, lighten up more. I wish I could say I totally jettisoned the nagging. I didn’t. I still need to get to work on time and she still drags her feet in the morning. But its getting better. And that’s how it works. Because a kid’s a full person, and moving her can feel more an alliance that is consistently renegotiated than a hierarchy of command and control.

 

Insight three:  Pride is prejudice

 

Back at the spring orchestral concert (I was bored, my kid was only performing for a total of 10 minutes of the hour so I had a lot of time to think). When she was on, I watched my baby with pride, the only girl trumpet player in the band. Just like I’m proud of her gymnastics, the plays and songs she writes, her ability to needle me into a better mood, her competence at organizing her own birthday parties, the way she fiercely defends her friends from all naysayers, that she’s been planning her campaign for SGA presidency for over a year, and yes I can keep going and I am sure can you too. But here’s the thing. I didn’t do any of that.  Praise be Athenadinks in pink hat.

 

Yeah, I encourage, support, applaud, listen, talk–all those parent things you do. I’m not trying to minimize this, not be a long shot. It can actually be hard to do when they aren’t not listening, writing on the walls, stuffing the cat into costumes and then crying when they get scratched. I’m just recognizing sometimes, the best support I give my child is to let her blossom on her own.  Not always, but sometimes its not what I do, but what I don’t do, when I choose to stay out of her way.

 

In the end, she’s the one that chooses out the hats, wears them, accessorizes them, rocks them. Me, I just drive to Target, veto the expensive ones and swipe the credit card. Oh, and I let her.

 

What have you learned about parenting you never expected?  Does your kid wear hats?

To err is human, forgive divine but self-forgiveness takes children

reachingAt the elementary school spring fair, I watched my daughter scurry up the climbing wall. Flexible arms and legs easily reaching from hand hold to hand hold, foot hold to foot hold. Envy was a drumbeat in my blood. That used to be me, easing my way to the sky. Until childbirth left me no time, life insurance ramped up the costs for extreme sport enthusiasts, and my body didn’t work quite as well. Me aside, my pride in her lifted with every confident reach, with every inch she ascended.

 

Until she looked down.

 

Her fear of heights beat down her love of climbing and sent her rappelling to the ground, unwilling to finish even though she was more than capable of doing so. The fear won.

 

Although every cell in my body wished her to look back up, to continue to climb, to overcome the anxiety, I understood. That also used to be me.

 

So many things I didn’t finish or gave up on because I was afraid. I spent my first three decades running away and every one since then learning tools and strategies to manage the fear, so it didn’t become a steel barrier to the quality of my life and the height of my aspirations. Step by step, I learned how to get out of my own way.  I hope the model my daughter sees daily is that of life lived in the present but always moving forward.

 

So when the fear showed up in her in all the things that used to scare me–heights, what other people thought,illness, crowds–I knew she didn’t get it from my modeling. It was inborn. As that insight sunk in, I came to understand that all the things I resented about myself, many of the things that held me back, were just part of the programming. DNA, I guess.

 

As tends to happen way too often with kids, my world turned upside down, my perspective changed.  This time, it was a good thing. I learnedtuck - Copy to forgive myself–because as I watched. I got it in that gut-wrenching, life-twisting got it moment, that my not-so-great childhood and early adulthood may not have been because there was something wrong with me. I was born the way I was born, and I had to learn to deal. Period.  For the first time self-forgiveness washed me clean–of my regrets for never achieving my goals young, at my anger for never being enough, at my frustration for losing to often to my own inhibitions.

 

I wish for my daughter a different reality than I had.  I hope what I learned can help her work through it more easily. But how much real control I have over that, remains unknown. What do you think?

Parent-Child Relationship Milestones: Which Matter Most to You?

As parents, our external culture gives us a series of milestones for our children–a combination of an early warning system, reachingemotional steam valve, development indicators and budget busters.  You know them–first words, first time they say mommy or daddy, first steps, potty training, first day of school, religious markers such as communions or bar-mitvahs, school graduations, marriage, their first child and many others.  The cycle of life with the all the notches as you move through it.

Now that my baby’s 10, I’ve got to admit, those are cultural milestones–the ones the outside world handed to me and I have go out and do something to mark them.  There a whole lot of others no one told me about, that are as dramatic, as meaningful and usually a lot less expensive. They often go unnoticed because there is usually no party, photo or bill attached.  These are those moments in time when the relationship between parent and child undergoes a subtle shift. They highlight a glimmer of personality, a blurring of formerly understood roles and rules, the opening of a whole new door.  And as a result of these milestones, I found myself forced to let go of something (e.g. a perception, a fear, a responsibility).  Here are some.  The first time she:

  1. held a bottle by herself and started to feed herself.
  2. slammed her bedroom door because she was angry with me.
  3. had a sleepover at a friend’s house.
  4. lied to me.
  5. asked about sex and the first time I answered her. (They were not the same time. The question came much earlier than I expected and I was not prepared.)
  6. made me laugh when I was being grumpy and took the initiative to make the environment friendlier.112
  7. cleaned up without me asking.
  8. planned her entire birthday party. I used to like the creative outlet of it.
  9. swatted me away because I was embarrassing her. (Actually that can be quite a lot of fun.~evil mom laugh~)
  10. stayed by herself. .

How about you?  What are the milestones or moments no one told you about that had you recalibrating the parent-child relationship?  Any of mine, you don’t agree with?  I’d love to hear from you.

The Mom Project

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Kasia James, who’ve I’ve mentioned many times, has set a wonderful project in motion–an anthology about motherhood in its wonderful and terrible complexity. I’m proud to be a part of that effort. The anthology is a push back to the popular media that tends to represent motherhood as a a shallow retail-driven experience. Real life, as you all know, is like the photo of my little darling above. Children flip your world upside down and toss it around in unexpected ways every damn day.  I’m writing an essay tentatively titled  “My Kid Wears Hats and Other surprises No One Told Me about Motherhood.”  Each week, I’ll be sharing one to two of those surprises as a trial run for the final essay and hopefully tapping into the brilliant and insightful minds out there to help me shape my thoughts and get this essay in shape.

I must confess, the anthology is not the only reason I’ve jumpstarted this mom project of mine.  I am also in the process of editing my next book, Next Move.  It is a contemporary romance, high on the hot scale,  in which the main character is a single mother.  For all the single parents out there, you know how hard it is to try to figure out how to date and have a sexual relationship under those conditions.  Talk about surprises!  I thought we needed a story that honored those needs and the difficulty of achieving them.

Given the confluence of forces in my life, I’m all about parenting on this blog.  Its going to be an interesting month of tears and laughter. Come join me. I’d welcome company along for the ride.

Wearing Your Plastic Smile: Sucking it up to cheerlead for your child

trumpet

I love being a mom. I adore my child.  But something my parents never told me–parenthood can be agonizing to the ears, the eyes, theback, name a body part–to support your child through all his or her dreams and aspirations. Hours on bleachers to watch my daughter compete in a gymnastics for a total of five minutes or sneaking in earplugs as she practices Hot Cross Buns on the trumpet for the zillionth time to name a couple.

Of course, it gets harder.back straddle

It’s one thing to listen to my daughter practice her trumpet, off-key and all, but sitting through the orchestral winter concert with all the other kids’ trumpets, violins, flutes etc..   is whole other definition of hell. That is when you pull out your plastic smile, polish it, slap it on your face and hide behind it all night. Because, sometimes, for your child, you just have to suck it up. No matter how much you hate orchestral music, how hot the overcrowded gymnasium is and how many songs you sit through that you know you  know but cannot recognize, even if a million bucks were on the line for you to name that tune.

That plastic smile gets worn at the talent show, dance recitals, sporting events–any of those endless functions in which my child performs for 3 minutes–when the smile reaches my eyes and pride flushes my cheeks pink–and then I have to sit through the other 2+ hours of everyone else’s children.

When do you pull yours out?

Read or write smexy romance? Have kids? Walking that tightrope.

Life

Life

Who there out there has a tween who thinks they know everything about the dreaded S.E.X.?  I’m raising my hand, high. Me, me, me, call on me.copy-firesofjustice_msr.jpg

Who out there has discovered the beauty of the e-reader because you can shut down the screen in less then a second when said kid looks over your shoulder or sits down next to you and you’re reading a smex scene?  My hand’s still up there. Me, me, me, please call on me.  Even my books falls into this category.

Who has a secret shelf on the top or back of a closet where you hide those drool-worthy book covers and how to sex books from prying eyes?  Still me.

And who turns off the radio your kid is listening to when a song with blatantly sexual lyrics come on–Rihanna’s S&M anyone (“Sex in the Air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it, sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and chains excite me”)? Yep, my hands starting to get sore from all the waving.

Trying to balance sex in adult culture (which I enjoy and write about) with parenting younger kids is  O.M.G.  And its not always so obvious.  My kid loved Flo Rida “Whistle Baby,” and thank goodness it went right over her head because it took me awhile to actually hear the lyrics. If you haven’t, you can read them here  Whoa, just Whoa. That really put suggestive book covers in perspective.

I talked to my kid early about sex–when she turned nine.  Research I did recommended that one of the best times to startOops button is at eight because they haven’t descended into giggly, embarrased mode yet.  In truth, she had actually stumbled over it on a play date a year or so earlier. Her friend had found her parents sex books on that top shelf and shared them.

Now my kid feels pretty comfortable coming to me and asking questions which is exactly what I want–to have a safe place for her to talk about it and to influence how she interprets the info she does gather.  How to answer them honestly but vaguely presents another challenge of my parenting life but for me, the openness is everything. Because I can’t control what she gets outside the house, where she spends most of her time when you add it all up . At least now I have a handle on her knowledge, an open channel of communication and an ereader that shuts down in a blink.

But man this remains sooooo hard. How do you all handle it? Any tricks for dealing with sex questions and the budding awareness of tweens and teen wannabes?

Mending A Vicarous Broken Heart, The Trials and Tribulations of #Parenting

How do you stem vicarious pain, that’s so real you can touch it, hear it breath, and feel its pointed edge scratching through your heart until it bleeds bucket after bucket, because your child hurts and a band aid can’t fix it.

And more to the point, I can’t fix it.  I stand transfixed watching  my baby inch her way to the cliff, knowing she’ll fall over, tumble through brush and over rocks, blood will spill, bones bruised, heart and mind challenged as never before.  I’ll run after, first aid kit in hand, knowing the bumps and bruises are the cost of growing up and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it but watch. Knowing the choices she makes are going to likely to make bad go to worse, but  as  a parent, I have to give her the freedom to choose, to fail, to have her wings clipped. Those wings will grow back, bigger, stronger, wider wingspan, but it will still be me, rubbing the ointment in the wound, wiping the tear away.

I tried talking, but  she doesn’t hear much beyond her name, and then it’s the drone of blah, blah, blah, the language of adults that kids may understand but cannot relate to. But I talk anyway, sure that someday, when she’s older and wiser, she’ll my voice in her head when she needs it most.

So where do I pick up a steel spine that gets me through this and all that’s yet to come?

Here’s what I’ve tried so far.  Any other thoughts would be welcomed with open arms and lots of thank yous.

  • Hide myself in my bedroom and cry, which solves nothing but gets it out of my system, for awhile at least.
  • Read every book ever written on the particular parenting issue in question, feel woefully inadequate because I am not “the supermom in the books.”, give myself an ass licking and toss the suckers out after picking up the one or two useful tips (not really worth a book) and use them to experiment with.
  • Talk or e-mail it to a friend who gives me advice, commiserates or just asks the right questions to get me to the right answer.
  • Splash my frustration on facebook and see what turns up, now using the blog in the same way.
  • Try talking to the rebel yet again,  because it makes me feel like I’m doing something even though I’m sure I’m not.
  • Pick up a book, stick my nose in it and try to forget.

Help!